Lost Horizon: Online Utopias, But for Whom?

Dwight Silverman has posted an interesting conversation he had with Steve Rubel on Twitter about blogging and the effect of social networks and related applications.  Steve has been spending an increasing amount of time using services like Twitter and Facebook, and as a result hasn’t been blogging as much.  Dwight, on the other hand, is still excited about the blogging movement and believes, correctly in my opinion, that thanks to RSS, blogging has the most powerful API of all.

Dwight sums up my thoughts on the penetration of Twitter, etc. very nicely:

One of the dangers of keeping obsessive track of new things is forgetting that not everyone rides the cutting edge. Rubel’s been thinking that, because he’s all into Facebook and Twitter, that the majority of Internet users are, too.

You could write an encyclopedia on that statement.  Sometimes I feel like I have.  More and more, the tech-invested internet (we can’t just refer to the blogosphere any more, as more and more people spend time behind the walls of the various social networks) seems to be comprised of a lot of grownups playing with toys and trying to convince the relatively few skeptics (and, of course, the entire non-tech population) that those toys are world-changing business tools.  I’ve never understood that, and I still don’t.  Sure, there are the Chalmers Bryants talking their position as they scramble for their share of the gold.  But there are more than a few folks with no direct skin in the game who seem to be drinking the kool-aid too.

Let me say it once more…

Nobody, and I mean N-O-B-O-D-Y, in the real business world has the slightest idea what Twitter is, and if you tried to tell them, they wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested.  Oh, unless they were in some corporate IT department- they’d be interested then, but only because they’d have to remember to block Twitter along with the free email and porn sites.  And even if they didn’t, heavy use of Twitter at work would be about the same as heavy eBay use.  Not a career enhancing move.

Steve says that the action is moving away from blogs and towards applications like Twitter and Jaiku.  He agrees that RSS is a powerful API, but says it’s limited, in that it only communicates one way.  The problem with that argument, of course, is that unless other users elect to “follow” you, Twitter, etc. is also one way communication.  Even if I had been on Twitter today, I couldn’t have participated in Dwight and Steve’s conversation, because I quit following Steve due to my Pink Floyd Policy.  In other words, I could elect to read what Steve and certain others have to say, but I can’t participate.  Email is more two way than Twitter- at least if I email someone, I can be reasonably certain they’ll see it.

Dwight’s thesis is that AOL, the grandfather of social networks, died because it became irritating to users- many of whom were happy to get their feet wet in the internet’s kiddie pool, but later became unhappy when they wanted to do more – and access more- than the walled-in AOL would accommodate.  I’ve been using Facebook for about 3 months, and I’m already frustrated with it.  I feel like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School every time I log in, and I find the interface to be very confusing and non-intuitive.

In other words, it’s a little irritating.  Why is this fact wildly ignored by so many bloggers and former bloggers?  By so many, I mean the hundred or so people who write all Shangra-La about Facebook and the other social networks.

Again, I just don’t get it.

Nor, I suspect, do the very large majority of the other grownups who get up and trundle off to work every morning- more worried about paying the bills than using the latest Facebook application.

As I wrote the other day, I find my application usage to be shrinking, rather than growing.  I simply don’t have time to have all the fun that people claim to be having at Facebook, Second Life, Twitter, Pownce, etc.  Plus, every minute I spend writing there is a minute that both dilutes the brand I am trying to build at my blog and inures almost exclusively to the benefit of whoever thinks they’re going to get rich by selling Facebook, etc. to Google or some Google wannabe.

Sure, I think it’s nice to have “friends” on Facebook.  Yes, I log in once in a while to see what’s going on behind the walls.  But all of that is ancillary to my greater online purpose: blogging outside the walls.  With other people.  In a conversation open to the world.  No walls, no silly jargon.

Dwight asks if blogging is passe.

Blogging has always been so 20 minutes ago- that’s one of the things I like about it.  From the day Dave Winer invented it (along with just about everything else, it often seems), it has been a niche activity that serves a meaningful purpose- allowing regular folks like us to share and distribute information more efficiently- but for a limited number of people.  When people get all exercised about all of the social networks and related applications, they are not only diluting their personal brands, they are diluting the entire blogging movement.  A movement that the rest of the world has only just begun to notice.  At a time when we could be bringing blogging to the masses, we have lost our way and scattered our meager ranks across all manner of disparate and desperate locales.  I think that’s the most troubling part of the application du jour internet mentality.

We are dispersing when we ought to be gathering.

The problem, of course, comes down to money.  No one is going to get rich because more people start blogging.  But if you can convince enough people to come to your web site, create a ton of content for free and, most importantly, get served a bunch of ads (note I didn’t say watch them, because nobody does), then you might make some money one day.

In the meantime, I’ll be here blogging.  Once in a while I’ll visit the communities that form behind the walls, but they will never be my home.

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